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EDITORIAL – Health a valuable asset

marciadottin, [email protected]

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A Professor in the Harvard Business School once told a class of postgraduate students that the greatest asset any of them would ever have was health. In his books, health was more important than the largest bottom line or the most brilliantly performing company, because without good health even the most brilliant and innovative mind would be hard pressed to operate at anything near optimum potential. He rounded off the lecture by reminding them that dead men tell no tales, and cannot produce anything. Good health, he concluded, is therefore an economic factor!Last week the importance of health as a factor in the economic mix came to the fore during a health meeting held at the Savannah Hotel. Chief Medical Officer, Dr Joy St John told the gathering of health professionals and others that the island was witnessing a “disturbing trend” with more young people falling victim to at least one chronic illness.Dr St John reminded the audience that the concern about the chronic non communicable diseases related to factors including their deadly nature and the burden they placed on the health sector and families. Given that these diseases include asthma, diabetes, hypertension and glaucoma, the implications of this development is startling, because those afflicted remain members of the society who have to be cared for, often by relatives, and medically supported by the state health facilities at an increasing cost for the national budget.Since these diseases require lifelong care and affect the quality of life of the individual sufferers, they are therefore as much an economic and financial issue as they are a matter for the health authorities. Productivity of the workforce may be adversely affected, and the moreso since the Minister of Health Donville Inniss, disclosed at the same gathering that one-third of the Barbadian population could be suffering from not one, but two, of the chronic diseases in the next ten years.The Government has already recognised the deleterious impact which AIDS can have on the economic development of our country if we lose workers during their most productive years to that dreaded disease. Similarly our best laid economic plans can go awry if hordes of our people are stricken with these disabling chronic diseases which drain our financial resources even as we lose optimum productivity.It is at this point that the urgings of the Harvard professor to his students take on new meaning for what is good for the individual is, in this instance, good for his country. In addition to whatever national programmes and exhortations there may be; each one of us has a patriotic duty to pay greater attention to matters of lifestyle. It is “what we can do for our country”.But there is more to this issue. Many more of our people are living to a ripe old age, while declining birthrates mean that fewer people of working age are available to “support” the greater numbers of the aged, whose pensions and medical requirements constitute a charge on national revenues paid by a smaller working population.Already we have raised the retirement age, because the economics of the situation has forced this decision on many countries; and forward planning is necessary if a financial nightmare is not to overtake us as we plan for the social security and other welfare maintenance of our aging populations.The Government’s plans to promote healthier lifestyles must therefore be supported by all Barbadians, and healthy living must become as much a part of our culture as cricket or calypso. Concurrently with this we support the objective of streamlining the Barbados Drug Service so that waste is reduced and eventually eliminated, while necessary medicines are made available to our people.We have always regarded our people as our most precious natural resource. That being so, we all owe it to ourselves and to our country to live as healthy life styles as possible!